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Education failure is state crisis

Uploaded: Oct 26, 2017

One of the journalists I have long admired is former Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters who now has moved to the non-partisan CalMatters web site.

A recent piece caught my eye along with reporting in other papers. His column pointed out what an abject the failure the new state school funding is when measured by student achievement.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature plan to fundamentally change the school funding formula that had been in place since the 1980s was passed by the Legislature in 2012. It allocated more money to districts serving challenging populations such as students learning English or students from poor families.

The latest statewide assessment results were simply awful when for Hispanic and black students. Three-quarters of the Asian and more than half of the white students met the standards for math and English, but the results were terrible for African American students and (31 percent English and 19 percent math) and Hispanic students (37 percent and 19 percent). Said another way four out of five Hispanic students are failing in math and two-thirds of them in English.

Obviously, the influx of money has not resulted in improvement. The federal No Child Left Behind legislation, enacted with bipartisan support early in President George W. Bush’s term, was designed to force districts to deal with just this type of situation. Pleasanton fell short of meeting the standard with Hispanic students, requiring some focused attention.

Education funding has climbed statewide more than 50 percent over the last five years. Throwing money at the problem has yielded no results. The team at Marilyn Avenue School in Livermore has demonstrated over the last 15 years that poor Hispanic students will learn and flourish with committed teachers and aides.

Dealing with the issue, given the political clout of the California Teachers Association over the dominant Democrat party, will be a major challenge, but this is a crisis that threatens the economic future of the state. Hispanics already make up more than 40 percent of the population and more than half of the student population.

Education failure dooms students to poor-paying manual labor unless they learn a trade where there is a bright future. Given the overwhelming need for skilled workers, those options need to be laid out for young people. They still require basic math and English skills are still necessary.

One answer, particularly for low-income communities, is school choice — a concept that is poison to the teachers’ unions. An online poll last month showed that citizens believe the wealthy have abundant choices for their kids — not so for poorer people. That opinion resulted in 55 percent of respondents favoring vouchers or tax breaks to create options for parents.

Injecting competition, with economic opportunity and consequences, can only help. It’s the basis of American capitalism, but sadly missing in government-operated schools.